Stress is defined as the adverse reaction, people have, to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed on them.
We all need some pressure in our lives - it makes our work satisfying and helps us meet deadlines. But, it's all about striking the right balance. Too much pressure without having the chance to recover, causes stress that can be damaging to our health and lead to major illnesses.
Causes of workplace stress
There are a number of factors that can make you feel stressed at work. Some of them are listed below:
- Poor working conditions
- Long working hours
- Lack of job security
- Difficult commute to and from work
- Improper/poor management of the company.
- Mismatch between the requirements of the job and your own capabilities and needs
- Too much or too little responsibility
- Lack of a clear job description or chain of command
- Temporary work and fixed-term contracts
- No recognition or reward for good performance
- No opportunity to voice complaints
- No opportunity to use personal talents or abilities
- Inadequate time to complete tasks to personal or company standards
- Relationships with colleagues: harassment or bullying, prejudice or abuse regarding age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or religion
Other causes such as depression, divorce, family quarrels, broken home, illness of loved one, pregnancy, miscarriage and other very personal factors affect a person's ability to perform as per expectations.
How stress affects us
Firm lines of demarcation between work and personal issues have dissipated. What goes on personally affects our work. What goes on at work affects our personal life. According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, nearly one-third of working men say that the demands of their job interfere with their private life and nearly a quarter feel that their work has caused them to neglect their children. Thus, work stress causes issues not only at the workplace but at home too.
There are three ways in which stress affects us - behaviour-wise, physiologically and psychologically.
- Becoming irritable/aggressive, withdrawn and showing signs of social isolation
- Changes in eating habits and addiction.
- Poor timekeeping/reduced performance and inability to concentrate
- Erosion of self-confidence
- Inability to cope with family/domestic roles
- Neglecting personal appearance
- Stomach disorders - indigestion/inflammatory bowel disease
- Raised blood pressure and heart disease
- Decreased immunity/frequent cough and colds/bronchitis
- Changing sleep patterns
- Muscle spasms - back/shoulder/neck pain
- Decreased sexual drive
There is a growing feeling that the workplace is a "threat" - a place that causes anxiety, tension and low self-esteem.
It's impossible to escape pressure at work altogether, so you need to learn how to manage stress effectively. Some ways to reduce the negative impact of stress are given here:
- Try to make time for yourself, away from work, to rejuvenate your mind and body. For example, listen to soothing music or read your favourite book.
- Make time for meditation and yoga.
- Exercise regularly.
- Find time to pursue non-work activities like hobbies and recreational activities.
- Talk to your family and friends. It will help you unwind after work and also unburden your problems.
- Don't drink too much alcohol or caffeine. Don't smoke either. These stimulants will only increase stress levels and do you more harm than good.
- Eat regular meals and a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Skipping meals will deplete your energy and leave you drained.
- At the end of each day, reflect on what you've achieved rather than worrying about the future. Don't be too hard on yourself and remember to take each day as it comes.
- Learn to say no. If you are deliberately asked to take extra work on board, or to stay in the office after your colleagues have left, take the courage to decline.
- Take breaks at work. Don't stay glued to the job - take a few minutes to sit back and relax, or take a brisk walk during your break.
- Plan your work. Sit down and establish what needs to be done. If you have an excessive workload, delegate it if possible. Set realistic deadlines for yourself.
- Make sure your work environment is comfortable. If it isn't, ask for help from your organisation's health and safety officer.
- If possible, don't work for long hours - some projects need extra time, but working long hours over many weeks or months does not generally lead to more or better results.
- Take a look at your relationships with colleagues - do you treat each other with respect and consideration?
- Find out if your organisation offers flexible working hours.
- If all else fails, have a serious talk with your immediate manager, or think about changing your job.
It is in everyone's interest to keep the workplace as stress-free as possible, and generally, organisations want to keep their employees happy and healthy. If companies have good work-life policies, employees are likely to be healthier and happier, and so, less likely to take time off work or think about quitting/switching jobs.
What should organisations do to manage and reduce workplace stress?
It is the company's responsibility to provide a conducive environment, so that the employees can offer their best. It makes good business sense to provide opportunities for working out unresolved work as well as personal issues. After all, if the employees aren't working to their potential, the employer's business will suffer.
Stress in the workplace can be assessed like any other risk if the matter is approached systematically. There are indicators which signal that the danger is arising. Therefore, it is essential that the company develop ways for employees to raise their concerns. These could include the following:
- Communicate: Create an environment where employees are encouraged to talk, both formally and informally, to their manager or other persons in the management chain.
- Respect the employees: Whatever be their position, status, gender, or ethnicity, your employees deserve your utmost respect. Help them to always know their value. Keep in mind that each employee's efforts are what makes the company thrive.
- Include employees in decision-making: When employees are involved in decision-making, they will have a feeling of ownership regarding the task in hand [for which their opinion was taken]. They then become more willing to take necessary actions for carrying out the decision.
- Opportunity to express concerns: Employees must be given the freedom to express their complaints and suggestions. Put suggestion boxes at various places. Read and respond to their suggestions.
- Have flexible working hours: Offering flexible working hours will help employees deal with their personal needs and problems too. This will, if not stop, at least lessen their personal burdens from affecting their productivity at work.
- Set realistic deadlines: There is so much to be done everyday, so be realistic with your expectations. Before delegating them with more work, check or enquire what's already in their plate.
- Have polices against discrimination and abuse: Employees should be aware that their company has polices to help them deal with harassment, bullying, abuse or racism.
- Provide creche facility: Employees, especially women, have increasing concerns about the care of their children. It would be great if the company provides on-site creche facility or at least offers resources and informative seminars about best alternatives for child-care, while at work.
- Organise periodic recreational and educative seminars: Such seminars will not only educate and refresh the minds of employees, but also encourage them to interact with each other on a social level. Sponsored company picnics and other outings also have the same effect.
- Organise periodic health fairs: Encourage employees to seek advice from occupational health advisors if they have certain health concerns.
- Provide employee assistance [counselling] services: Improve skills in managing/supporting people with stress-related problems. Focus on introductory courses in communication skills, and develop an understanding of mental health problems, symptoms and the link between these symptoms and possible ill health. Provide with gymnasium and other recreational facilities.
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